My Traitor's Heart
by Rian Malan
In BriefMy Traitor’s Heart is a difficult and upsetting book. It delves into the horrors of apartheid, and catalogues a series of ‘ordinary murders’ in order to demonstrate the traumatizing effects of institutionalized racism on society at large, the stripping away of humanity, the corruption of justice, and the sense of hopelessness that things might ever be different. It wrestles with the paradoxes created by the concepts of identity, community and belonging, and delves into the author’s secret prejudices with rare and brutal honesty. It captures the chaos of South Africa on the cusp of transition, and opens a window into complex and controversial questions about man’s ability to transcend suspicion and fear of ‘the other’ and learn instead to trust and stand together.
Why you should read itMy Traitor’s Heart explores themes of identity, of ‘us’ versus ‘them,’ of how we decide which side we’re on, and what happens when doing the right thing requires fighting against ‘us’ and for ‘them.’ It is relevant to anyone seeking to understand how precarious South Africa’s peaceful transition to democracy was, and how difficult it is to turn a country from a military state into a democracy. Malan throws political correctness to the wind and tells the truth as he sees it, at the risk of condemnation and revilement. But his honesty is his redemption, allowing him to conquer the dark place in his heart and find cause for optimism and hope.